Why There is no Bad Course

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There is a raging debate about the usefulness of some of the courses offered in universities, with a score of commentators labeling some courses bad and irrelevant. I have been keenly, actively and consistently exploring the issues in this debate for last 17 years. In this article, I argue that there is not such a thing as a bad or irrelevant course taught in of Uganda’s universities. Instead, it is pedagogical failures that render such courses seem unproductive. By pedagogy, we mean the methods employed in the teaching and learning of those courses as well as the philosophical orientation that informs why those courses are taught. As such, there is only bad interpretation of courses; bad orientation of the course; a bad mix of knowledge, skills and attitudes; and a misfit between the student and the course.

As you read the rest of this article, I invite you to have in mind any course you perceive to be bad or irrelevant and is offered in any of Uganda’s universities. As we go along, subject that course to scrutiny through the lenses of the insights I raise herein.

First, let me highlight the 21stdynamics that inform the basis of my argument. To begin with, there is no longer any self-contained course. In practice, disciplines have greatly fused into each other, requiring a multi-disciplinary approach. Competitive advantage is dependent on one’s ability to blend a variety of knowledge-sets and skill-sets to generate an integrated product of value. My classmate, Dr. Kabuye Rogers Mugagga is a medical doctor with a master’s degree in surgery, but by occupation, he is an acclaimed software programmer. He specializes in developing customized ICT solutions for hospitals and is a consultant for health units around the country. He has also taken the trouble to master financial and accounting systems applicable for health facilities, making him a financial systems consultant in that field too.

Secondly, disciplines and skills that never made any economic or career sense in the 20th century and before have turned out to be among the most lucrative fields of the 21st century. Humans of the 21st century have become so trendy and consumerist that they can practically pay for anything that they perceive to add value to their lifestyle. They want to live simplified lives that they can pay for any product or service that serves this purpose. This explains why for example local comedians have become international celebrities, earning a lot more than traditional professionals. In the beauty industry people specializing in a minute aspect like manicure and pedicure can easily walk home with one hundred thousand shillings in a day. Others have made lucrative businesses out of collecting garbage from people’s homes;   providing funeral services, cleaning domestic and office carpets or selling vegetable seedlings to urban dwellers. We now have fully fledged enterprises specializing in providing ushering services for all sorts of events. All these fields of practice are new and never made economic or career sense only 20 years ago practice.

The real challenge for educationists and policy planners is to learn the art and science behind making sense out of what is perceived to be nonsense. And clearly, the problem is not with the courses but rather with the way they are interpreted. When I studied at Makerere University in the 1990s, the students who took Music Dance and Drama (MDD) were ridiculed as academic dwarfs, popularly known in Luganda as MusiruDdalaDdala. But at that same time, the celebrities in Hollywood were applying the same skills and they presided over one of the most lucrative industries in the USA. So the problem was not necessarily with the course but with the poor local interpretation of that course here in Uganda. Today, even here in Uganda, the 21st-century dynamics have turned tables to the advantage of MDD products.

History is perceived to be a dead subject in terms of career prospects. Yet if seen from a 21st-century perspective it could be one of the most entrepreneurial subjects with infinite career prospects. Think for example of someone who has specialized as a technology historian. That person would be deeply immersed in the trends of science and technology using research methods in history to predict future trends in technology development, usage, and consumption patterns. Such a historian might be more valuable and sought after by technology companies that a certified marketing specialist with a sophisticated MBA. The problem is history as a subject, but how it perceived, designed and taught. And this applies to all courses.

In conclusion, any course can make great career sense if appropriately packaged and taught with that orientation in mind. The 21st-century trends dictate that the continued teaching and learning of courses in a compartmentalized model as though they were self-contained, is to the disadvantage of the students. Such graduates, regardless of what course they have pursued, will only see the world as a set of compartmentalized fields. These are people who will always complain about scarcity because a single discipline on its own easily gets exhausted and can only beget a scarcity mentality. An inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary outlook is richer in interpretation and begets an abundance mentality. Graduates from such a learning setting hardly run out of options in as far as applying for their courses. With this paradigm, every course has a lucrative entrepreneurial and career interpretation. It is the responsibility of educationists to design the teaching and learning the framework in a manner that will help students and teachers to discover that interpretation.

Ambrose KibuukaMukiibi S.

Education and Career Guidance Consultant

and Member Board of Trustees, KIU.

Also, Author of After University, What Next?

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